What about the tortillas? Part 1

I have a great fondness for Mexican food, and over the years have repeatedly attempted to prepare dishes that have been favorites since my first trip to Mexico. Pozole, mole, tamales, salsa verde, squash blossom quesadillas, guacamole, and cactus salad beget memories of time spent in a country laden with magical and tragic stories. Mexico’s potent ambiance is capable of stimulating all the senses.  (Check out this movie)!

Mexican recipes that inspire me to spend a good and long day in the kitchen require a bit of planning ahead, and may necessitate a trip to town, across the border, or happily, in some instances, just out to our gardens.

Finding a good Mexican food store that carries a variety of dried peppers, hot sauce, corn husks, banana leaves, hominy, mole sauce and prickly pear cactus is always a treat, and an opportunity to stock up on ingredients that are not readily available where I live. While I still buy all of these ingredients when given the chance, I also grow a few that do well in our climate. That list is shorter, but it does include some essentials: a variety of hot peppers (very important!); tomatillos (a snap to grow and three or four plants will produce more fruits than anyone would know what to do with);  black beans (a must!); cilantro (succession plantings are a good idea); and of course, epazote (an easily grown Mexican herb).

Ah…but what about tortillas, the foundation for the smell and taste of Mexican food? Tortillas, made from masa harina (field corn or maize that has been treated in a solution of slaked lime and water and ground into flour), are undoubtedly the most basic Mexican food. Maize is a staple for all Mexicans and has been part of that culture’s cuisine for centuries and dates back as far as 10,000 years…a lot of history to think about while eating tortillas! I like to know the stories behind the food I eat. And, in the case of the lowly tortilla I have, admittedly, over-romanticized the historical and labor-intensive hand processing methods that at one time preceded the end product. The images that I have in my mind’s eye, of women bent over a grindstone, were long ago lapped by modern ones of machines that spew out corn tortillas, kilo after kilo.

With strong memories of eating fresh tortillas purchased at a tortilleria in a small Mexican village, it is hard to be satisfied with the imitations found in the freezer section of our grocery stores. The disappointment that can accompany those tasteless rubbery discs is no more than an open invitation to seek out flavorful and pliable replacements. One obvious solution is to make tortillas at home using masa harina, which can be found in most grocers. I have tried several brands over the years. One brand had no information about the corn used, another stated that it was 100% natural, and yet another declared that the corn used is non-GMO and is organic (although that information is not on the package). I have happily used the later two interchangeably and love the flavorful results. For the time being.

Since information about the corn used for the production of masa harina is not readily available, I am left wondering, why not? Commercial corn gets a really bad rap these days. With all the issues that surround it – GMO seed, soil depletion from the over-planted fields, fertilizer overload and subsidies – it is not a wonder. Not knowing, or not being able to easily find out what type or grade of corn is used in commercially produced masa harina, I have considered growing flour corn along with the sweet corn, popcorn and open pollinated varieties that we plant each year. If I did grow such a corn, could I make my own tortilla flour? My own home-made masa harina? I decided to give it a shot.

Mandan Bride, the flour corn that I planted, is beautiful to look at in its multi-coloured kernel dress. What an exciting moment it was last year, in late summer, when I tore back the husks of a cob to discover what laid within. Ideally this particular corn would dry on the stalk and in the field, but our growing season isn’t quite long enough for that to happen, and the birds like to have their way with it, if it is left in the field. So, we harvested, husked, hung the corn to dry, and admired its beauty until it was time to roll the kernels off the cobs. All the reading I did about drying and processing corn suggested that the dried kernels could be stored for quite some time, so grinding it into meal or flour, or soaking it in a slaked lime and water solution to make masa harina or hominy, could be left for a quiet winter day.

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Well, that day arrived mid-January. It made sense to start simply. So, I pulled out the grain grinder borrowed from a friend; figured out how it worked, cleaned it up, and set out to grind some of the kernels. Never having processed any grains at home before, this was a special moment. A bit of adjusting to get the setting right was needed and I soon had a small pan full of corn meal. The smell coming off the ground corn was better than I could have ever hoped for and called for a taste test.  The muffin follow-up made the growing, harvesting, drying, and grinding process seem like an absolute and worthwhile life necessity.

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Now, with the flavor test out of the way via the cornmeal muffin step, I can proceed to the next part of this corn project – attempting to make masa harina. Once I source the slaked lime I will be well on my way. Hopefully. And, I will let you know how that goes in Part 2.

 

 

Posted in black beans, chili peppers, cilantro, epazote, flour corn, hominy, mandan bride corn, masa harina, tomatillos, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

a walk through the gardens…

I am an early riser. Up with the first sign of light in the sky, window wide open, birdsong signaling the beginning of a new day. I revel in this time of the year – wrapped in fresh, cool morning air, constant change, and beauty and bounty. As I walk through the gardens I have a great sense of hope and optimism. My quiet, early morning sojourn is, all at once, a daily reminder of all that there is do and the reason that I do it.

Walk through the gardens with me…

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Planting Strawberries & Asparagus crowns…

STRAWBERRIES

I planted out several Tristar Strawberries last year and they provided ample grazing throughout the season.  I am looking forward to what they will offer this year!

TriStar Strawberry – Everbearing – Tristar is a day-neutral strawberry variety that is excellent for both fresh eating and freezing.  The berries are firm, red, very sweet, and solid with no hollow cores.  They are conical in shape but only medium-sized.  A big advantage is their production pattern.  They begin producing with a bang early, will produce all summer long as long as conditions are tolerable, and will increase production again in the late summer to fall as they produce maximally at that time.

Plant the Strawberry Plants

planting strawberries 292x300 How to Grow Strawberries in 10 Easy Steps

Whether you buy them at the store or order them online, as soon as you get the strawberry plants to your garden, get them in the ground as quickly as possible.  Strawberry plants have a thick section of tissue called the “crown” between the stems and roots.  Your plants should be planted so that the crown is even with the soil.  Plant them too high, and the roots dry out.  Plant them too low or completely bury the crown under the soil, and your plants will be much more likely to suffer injury or disease.

The time of year is a consideration in planting strawberries – most gardeners plant strawberries when the weather is warming up in the spring.

Day neutral and everbearing strawberry plants don’t send out many runners and instead focus their energy on producing multiple harvests. The hill system is basically a raised bed 8 inches high and 2 feet wide. Plants are set out in staggered double rows, about 12 inches apart. All runners should be removed as well as all flowers until July 1st of the first year. Plants may then be allowed to produce fruit. Multiple harvests are exhausting on plants and both day neutral and everbearing varieties should be replaced about every 3 years or whenever they seem to slow in vigor.

Mulching the Strawberry Bed

Mulch between plants after planting to keep the soil temperature cool, deter weeds and to keep the fruit off the soil. Straw is the traditional strawberry mulch. Do not use black plastic since it will raise the soil temperature and optimal fruit production requires cool soil.

ASPARAGUS

Asparagus is a medicinal food, having a beneficial effect on the kidneys, liver and bowels. Nutritionally, asparagus is rich in vitamins C & E, folate, potassium, and fiber. A well-tended asparagus patch can remain productive for over 15 years.

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Jersey Knight – This is a superior variety of Asparagus that produces premium quality spears up to 1″ (2 cm) thick – but despite being so thick they are tender and sweet. The cropping potential of this variety is enormous! And, up to 20 years cropping can be expected, this a highly profitable variety in every way for amateur and smallholder alike.

Sweet Purple – Larger and more tender option to green asparagus. Wonderfully mild, nutty flavor when cooked—20% higher sugar content than green varieties makes Sweet Purple delicious even raw! Spears turn green when cooked.

How to Plant?  Here is a good link that gives tips on planting your asparagus.

 

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On the subject of organics…

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We grow good, healthy, organic food. And, have been doing so for the past six years. FLASHBACK…After we decided that we wanted to grow food that would be for sale at our farm gate, or at local food distributors, we … Continue reading

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